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Force Us to Vote

Four reasons why BC needs to make casting ballots compulsory.

By Bill Tieleman 12 May 2009 | TheTyee.ca

Bill Tieleman is a regular Tyee contributor who writes a column on B.C. politics every Tuesday in 24 Hours newspaper. Tieleman can be heard Mondays at 10 a.m. on the Bill Good Show on CKNW AM 980 or at www.cknw.com. E-mail him at weststar@telus.net or visit his blog, where this item first appeared.

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It's our duty to democracy.

We are comfortable with compulsion in other walks of life, such as jury duty or the requirement to educate our children. Surely our democracy is valuable enough to deserve a similar level of backing. -- U.K. author Ben Rogers

Today is provincial election day -- and far too many citizens will not exercise their democratic right to vote.

So I believe it's time British Columbia and Canada moved to compulsory voting laws, where all voters are required to vote or face a penalty for not doing so.

It may surprise you to learn that 30 countries representing 10 per cent of the democratic world have compulsory or mandatory voting laws.

Of those, 19 enforce those laws by fining or penalizing any eligible voter who refuses to cast a ballot.

The upside Down Under

Australia is perhaps the most prominent country with compulsory voting and at a time when voter participation is declining around the world no matter what type of electoral system is used, more than 90 per cent of Australians have voted in every national election since the law was introduced in 1924.

Compare that to British Columbia, where voter turnout was just 58 per cent in 2005 and fell from a high of 78 per cent in 1983 to just 55 per cent in 2001. From the 1920s through 1980s, voter participation was regularly in the high 60 per cent to low 70 per cent range.

Australia is far from alone in making voting compulsory. Other countries with similar laws that are enforced include Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Greece, Luxembourg, Mexico, Peru and Turkey.

And Italy, the Netherlands, Bolivia, Costa Rica and Thailand are among other nations that have mandatory voting laws but do not enforce them.

Four reasons to do it

So what are the arguments in favour of demanding citizens exercise their vote?

First, mandatory voting forces every party to consider the needs of all voters in forming policies, reducing a focus on ideological, regional or other influences. All parties have to appeal to all voters, not just some.

Second, no government can show favour to special interests or only ridings it holds without fear of losing the following election.

Third, democracy is a privilege many have died for -- it's not to be taken lightly.

Fourth, election results would reflect the views of the entire population, not just the 50 to 60 per cent who currently vote.

With compulsory voting there are exceptions for those who for religious reasons do not vote or those who cannot vote. And spoiling your ballot in protest against all parties is still completely legal and not penalized.

It's time that all of us vote, to protect our democratic rights. It's time for compulsory voting.

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